ONA group
SJMC students and faculty enjoy the Student Reception at ONA

The Online News Association (ONA) conference took place in Austin Sept. 13-15. This was the first time the event was held in Austin, and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State was out in full force, with 29 faculty and students attending. Every year since 2000, ONA has brought together the most progressive professionals to discuss emerging media topics.

This year, the concepts addressed at ONA included artificial intelligence, use of data, virtual reality and the emerging verification platform blockchain. Discussions around revenue generation, media sustainability, misinformation, trust in media and audience engagement were evident throughout the conference.

“I was excited to see so many panels on virtual reality and 360 video at ONA,” said SJMC senior lecturer Jon Zmikly. “Our faculty and students heard from a wide range of cutting-edge media professionals who shared valuable advice and best practices for the emerging platform. I walked away with many new examples to show my classes and new connections with industry leaders.”

Faculty also participated on the conference program. SJMC professor Cindy Royal moderated a product management workshop, and Dale Blasingame and Sara Shields spoke on a panel about drone certification.

SJMC faculty Sara Shields and Dale Blasingame discuss drone certification at ONA
SJMC faculty Sara Shields and Dale Blasingame discuss drone certification at ONA

Students found the event informative and complementary to topics they are learning and practicing. “The Future of Content, Layout, and Curation in WordPress was a particularly informative panel because I work in WordPress daily,” said undergraduate student Holly Hearn. “I left with knowledge about upcoming changes to the CMS that I can anticipate and prepare to apply.”

“The fun, laid-back events made networking at the conference much more relaxing,” Hearn continued. “I enjoyed meeting friendly professionals, as well as other students, at ONA.”

Digital Media graduate student Steffanie Agnew enjoyed learning about emerging platforms being used by professional organizations. “It was great getting to hear from industry professionals on innovative things they are doing,” Agnew said. “The panel on augmented reality was interesting to see how this new platform is being experimented with as a storytelling medium by organizations like The New York Times.”

Laura Krantz is the director of the University Star, Texas State’s student newspaper. “I have been looking at different funding models, including the three-prong approach of advertising, fundraising and events,” Krantz said. “It was exciting to see what the industry is doing and how this shift is taking place to address sustainability.”

In addition to the main conference, a student pre-conference, ONAU, was held at The University of Texas School of Journalism on Sept. 12. This event had speakers, workshops and student presentations around the topic of managing digital products. Professor Royal moderated a panel — featuring Becca Aaronson Davis, director of product at Chalkbeat and Brett Bowlin, director of digital strategy at Texas Monthly — and assisted with a design-thinking workshop. Digital Media graduate student Sean Smith and undergraduate Digital Media Innovation student Danielle Molinar presented projects.



“The highlight of the conference for me was getting to present the SXTXState project on a panel during the ONAU pre-conference sessions,” Smith said. “It’s great to see the topics discussed in class are echoed in the sessions I attended throughout the week, and it was great to speak on a panel with other students who are passionate about the intersection of digital trends and communication.”

Professor Royal has attended ten ONA conferences. “I was thrilled that so many of our students and faculty could participate in ONA this year and be exposed to these progressive technologies and professionals,” Royal said. “I was particularly proud of the students who presented at the conference and participated in discussions.”

Students and faculty used the #txstona hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to record insights they gleaned throughout the event. Next year’s ONA conference will take place in New Orleans.